It has been several years since we went to the Berkeley Kite Festival so time to make another visit. As it does not open until 10 am we did not have to leave home at the crack of dawn. Tomate Cafe, which was our breakfast destination, opens at 8 so we left home a little before 7. It felt like half way through the day.
(Click on the photos for larger versions)
Traffic was heavy on 101. Obviously not as busy as during commute hours on a week day but more than we are used to at the weekend. Then we saw signs saying the three rights lanes were closed ahead. What – we would be down to one lane? I’d read a few weeks ago that 101 was being repaved around the center of San Jose but had not taken into account that it may affect us. Traffic started slowing down and the road was dusty with lots of debris. We thought we were in for a big hold up. Fortunately it was not as bad as we expected. They construction must have been going on through the night as they were busy removing the cones.
We left 101 and joined 880. Now isn’t that a boring freeway? 101 in the Bay Area is almost as bad but I’m sure 880 is worse. At least on 101 you get occasional views of the bay and there are always points of interest like Moffett Field in Mountain View and the airport nearer to the city. Just past the Oakland Raiders Stadium on 880 we drove by a building with a sign saying ‘Pacific Galvanizing’. It always amuses us when we see this building as the pipes on top are rusty. Mmm… not much of an advert for the company. A mention must be made about the state of the highway in this area as it is appalling. The stretch of freeway must surely be high on the list to be repaved.
We arrived in Berkeley at 7.40. It was too early for breakfast so we drove round the neighborhood of 5th and Addison. It was a bit run down but there were a lot of light industrial units which hopefully are still in business. A lot of the streets have ‘ Bike Blvd’ painted on the road surface. Not exactly a scenic route though.
We sat in the car and waited outside the Tomate Cafe for ten minutes. Alongside was an old bus which had been converted into living quarters. On the roof of the bus was the top of a mini van. Obviously the upstairs bedroom. Sticking out of the roof were a couple of smoke stacks and there were solar panels on the roof. Every window was covered in sheeting so didn’t know if anybody lived inside.
After breakfast we took a drive down University to look for an ATM. We passed lots of businesses with strange names. University leads right to UC Berkeley where, during the 1960’s, it was a center for student unrest and protests against the war in Viet Nam. It is still a very liberal area.
The Berkeley Kite Festival is held at the Berkeley Marina, which is at the other end of University. I knew that the only parking near the festival would cost $10 so we contemplated parking on the east of Highway 80 and walking across the footbridge to the festival. Driving around the district though we changed our mind. Parking was either at meters on the main streets or on side streets for free but the neighborhood was not very salubrious. We saw notices saying that parking was available at Spenger’s Restaurant and there was a free shuttle bus service to the festival grounds. When we found Spenger’s car park, there was still a $10 charge. We decided to drive over the freeway and park closer to the festival grounds and pay the $10.
There was a fairly long walk from the car park . Shuttle buses are advertised to be operating but we didn’t see any. Maybe they didn’t start
running until later in the day. The Kite Festival officially started at 10 but, as usual we were early. Even so, there were lots of cars already parked and quite a few people were already making their way towards the festival and more cars were arriving all the time.
In the distance we could see several large kites already tethered and swaying in the slight breeze. We could also hear snatches from the public address system. On the site, booths were being set up but nothing was ready to buy. We walked around to see what was going on. Already people had set up their picnic chairs to claim their place for enjoying the kite flying competitions which would start later. I watched a couple in a roped off area untangling the strings of a large kite whilst their son and his younger sister were having more success with a smaller kite.
There were the usual large octopuses in the static display area. I had picked up an event guide and read that there would be an attempt to break the world record for the largest number of Giant Octopus Kites ever flown. The record stands at 21 kites but they are hoping to get 25 in the air this weekend. At the moment there were only a few struggling to stay airborne.
We walked towards the hill where several smaller kites were tethered to posts and cars in an unroped area. It was a surreal experience to walk underneath them. The weather was chilly but there was not a lot of wind – not what you want when you are kite flying. All of the kites in the air were not very high and sometimes they flopped to the ground. Walking so close to them meant they could have landed on my head.
On the hill we had a good view of the whole site. Near the water we could see some people practicing with their acrobatic kites. We were looking forward to seing some of the kites competing later.
I wanted to see what was on the other side of the hill so wandered off. I chanced upon a mini Stonehenge with an outer circle of large stones and an inner circle of smaller stones. In the middle was a solar circle. Solstice and Equinox celebrations are held quarterly in the park. Around the area were a number of information boards which paid homage to César Chávez who fought a long battle in the 1960’s and 70’s to form a union for migrant farm workers in the Central Valley. The park is named after him.
On the other side of the hill there was a view of San Francisco emerging out of the haze. To the south I could see the Bay Bridge, to the north the Richmond Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge to the west. Numerous small sailing boats were out on the bay. It was very peaceful. When I found a bench I sat down and wrote up my journal. I lost all track of time and when I checked my watch I realized that I had been sitting and writing for over half an hour. It was time to go and find Tom.
As I walked over the hill and the festival site came into view, I could see that there were more kites in the air, or rather attempting to stay afloat, and a lot more spectators. I made my way to the Octopi and Giant Kite Expo – as it is called in the event guide. I could see four giant octopuses in the air, plus three more on the ground. It doesn’t look like they will be able to break the record by getting 25 in the air today. Maybe they would have more success tomorrow.
I could hear a live band playing and went to investigate and came upon the Hamamatsu, Japan Delegation. Japanese kites are different because they are made out of paper and bamboo. One team were making a heroic attempt to get their kite airborne. All the members of the team wore similar jackets with Japanese symbols on the back. The leader looked like a pirate with a kerchief on his head. He was shouting and gesticulating to encourage his team. Every so often he would grab the string and jerk it up and down, but to no avail. The band, which consisted of drums, trumpets and a conch shell, kept going but when the kite flopped onto te ground, the music fizzled out. Another team, JHAL, tried to get their kite aloft but eventually they too had to give up.
I found Tom sitting on a bench and joined him. On the grass behind us were numerous family groups, sitting on blankets and eating their picnic
lunches and, of course, watching the kites. Behind them spectators who had brought their own kites, were busy flying them. The variety of designs was awesome. The most unusual were a gecko with a twisty tail; a diver; a black, white and red shark, but my favorite was a magnificent goose. Later on I saw the goose lying on the ground completed deflated. It did not look quite so majestic then.
Tom and I walked over to watch the kites taking part in the competitions. First we watched some of the single kites. They looked so beautiful and all synchronized to music. We were particularly impressed by John Gillespie performing to the theme from ‘The Magnificent Seven’. Next came the Kite Ballet Competition where we were mesmerized by three or six people flying acrobatic kites. One team going by the name of i-Quad were amazing. The way they maneuvered their kites took my breath away.
All this excitement made us thirsty so we walked down the dining aisle. So many different types of food from the standard hot dogs, korn dogs and pretzel to the more exotic. All we wanted was a drink though because we were still full from breakfast. We had a choice of soda, water, smoothies, coffee, lemonade and even a strange concoction of some lurid red liquid and dry ice. No thank you, just a bottle of water for us. The price was a bit steep but not as expensive as a cup of lemonade for $7 (but refills were free!)
Time to head home because there were far too many people around. Taking photos was getting more and more difficult because somebody always seemed to get in the way. But we had a great time.